dir Michael Dougherty
scr Todd Casey, Michael Dougherty, Zach Shields
prd Michael Dougherty, Alex Garcia, Jon Jashni, Thomas Tull
with Adam Scott, Toni Collette, David Koechner, Allison Tolman, Emjay Anthony, Stefania LaVie Owen, Conchata Ferrell, Krista Stadler, Lolo Owen, Queenie Samuel, Maverick Flack, Leith Towers
release US/UK 4.Dec.15
15/US Universal 1h38
Oh the weather outside is frightful: Collette and Scott

koechner tolman ferrell
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Krampus There's a gleeful tone to this holiday horror romp that makes it solidly entertaining. But while it's happy to get grisly, it's only vaguely scary. But it plays merrily with cliches of both holiday and stalker movies, and the solid cast is engaging enough to keep the audience gripped.

With their hectic schedules, Tom and Sarah (Scott and Collette) are struggling to connect, while their teen kids Beth and Max (Owen and Anthony) are dreading the arrival of Aunt Linda and Uncle Howard (Tolman and Koechner) and their annoying cousins (Owen, Samuel and Flack). Then Aunt Dorothy (Ferrell) arrives unannounced for a three-day Christmas visit, while Tom's mother (Stadler) watches with knowing dread. But the real danger is a nasty ice storm and power cut, which is accompanied by an invasion by a freaky anti-Santa and his violent elves and toys.

Dougherty directs the film with an odd mix of superb camerawork and editing and rather dodgy effects that are never very convincing. Most of the creatures in the film wear masks, which means that their faces don't quite move. This is a bit jarring when juxtaposed with some more detailed digital effects work. Thankfully, Dougherty keeps the focus on the human cast, leaving the monsters mainly as threatening figures waiting to pounce, so the menace is neither personal nor particularly frightening.

All of the actors have excellent timing, and the four main players are experts at leaping between comedy and drama without missing a beat, so the terror on their faces feels viscerally honest. Despite the simplistic set-ups, each actor adds his or her own version of tenacity, which gives the film a bit of texture and allows the characters' stress to ooze out of the screen and hold us in our seats. And as Max, young Anthony has a terrific presence that gives the film a heart and soul.

But of course, this is a guilty pleasure movie, a slice of holiday nastiness that kicks off with the classic strains of It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas accompanied by images of shopping mall mayhem and family misery. This knowing approach continues through the film's first half until the stalker-style craziness takes over and never lets up until the very end. So while it's enjoyable, it never quite makes the most of its superb mythical source. And it's too tame to please horror fans.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 1.Dec.15

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© 2015 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall